Big God. Bold Friendship. (Colossians 4:7-18)

MOTIVATE

In 2001, director Steven Soderbergh gave us a visual reminder through film of a life and leadership principle: “Relationships Matter.” Here is a conversation that took place between two characters, Rusty & Danny:


Rusty: You’d need at least a dozen guys doing a combination of jobs.

Danny: Like what do you think?

Rusty: Off the top of my head, I’d say you’re looking at a Boesky, a Jim Brown, a Miss Daisy, two Jethro’s, and a Leon Spinks, not to mention the biggest Ella Fitzgerald ever!


We are not meant to understand all these individuals in this conversation from the popular movie “Ocean’s Eleven.” George Clooney played the idea man, Brad Pitt was the pro, Matt Damon was the protégé, and Julia Roberts was the wild card. The movie struck a chord with people showing relationships matter that the full cast reunited in 2004 and in 2007 for Ocean’s 12 and 13.[1]

There is an unmistakable reality in life that friendships and relationships shape our lives. Relationships are the glue that holds society together and are the working parts to make things work. God has designed the world for relationship and community. It is so hard-wired into our psyche that we hardly can identify ourselves without others – “I’m so and so’s father, mom, friend, etc.” Even more, we look to others to affirm our identity, or somehow we feel inadequate or incomplete when we go without someone bc of how much value we place on people.
 
Prov. 18:24, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up… A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”

Prov 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

EXAMINE           Colossians 4:7-18                  Big Friendships

The closing section in many of Paul’s letters are lists of associates and friends. In 2Tim 4:19-21 Paul lists eight individuals, in Phm 1:23-24 lists five individuals, in Colossians 4:7-17 there are ten names, and only in Romans 16:3-16 does Paul share greetings with more – twenty-seven – individuals.

When many people see name lists or genealogies in the Bible they often skim or skip reading. Yet, these sorts of passages are still inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16) and insightful for learning about the Christian life. Paul’s descriptions and remarks help the modern church understand the type of Christian friends we need and should be to one other.

When many people see name lists or genealogies in the Bible they often skim or skip reading. Yet, these sorts of passages are still inspired by God and insightful for learning about the Christian life.

The church needs friends who are faithful servants.

Paul starts with telling the Colossians about a man named Tychicus (Col 4:7-8). He has a three-fold description: beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord. He was sent by Paul to deliver the letter of Colossians to their church, and likewise the same for the Ephesian church, and later letters of Timothy and Titus (Eph 6:21; 2 Tim 4:12; Titus 3:12). Clearly, Tychicus was a trusted friend and well-traveled partner to Paul.

Traveling with Tychicus was Onesimus (Col 4:9), who was also described as faithful and beloved. In another letter, Paul describes himself as a heartfelt father to Onesimus and obviously became deeply attached to him (Phm 1:12, 15).

Faithful servants are rare and irreplaceable. Tychicus and Onesimus are not well-known stars of the Bible, but they are nonetheless heroes of Christian history. Without their help and friendship, there would likely be missing links in the legacy of faith. Likewise, faithful servants in God’s church aid in ministry to next generations and added geographical locations.

  • > Volunteers desperately needed in the fall for CM/YM [not to mention AHG/TL].
  • > Read Christian biography: 10 Who Changed World[2], Christian Heroes Then&Now[3], Swans Are Not Silent[4].

Servants of the Lord come in all shapes and sizes. Interestingly, Onesimus was a runaway servant to Philemon, but Paul writes a letter to him asking for Onesimus to be freed and any debt owed can be charged to Paul’s account. In some sense, Onesimus is a friend with a scandalous but forgiven past, thanks be to the Lord Jesus Christ. Likewise, we should not easily discount individuals, or ourselves, to serve based on external judgments.

  • > Where are you serving God’s church?
  • > Who can you ask to serve God’s church with you? Every Christian is a missionary and a mobilizer.

The church needs friends who are fellow sufferers.

Next on Paul’s list are Aristarchus, John Mark, and Justus (Col 4:10–11) are described as fellow prisoners, workers, and comforters to Paul. These brothers had traveled with Paul in his missionary journeys – Aristarchus (cf. Acts 19:29; 27:2), John Mark (cf. Acts 12:12, 15:37-39; Phm 1:24; 2 Tim 4:11), and Justus. The unknown network of personal friendships extending over many years is filled with profound intimacy through struggle and shared experiences in the early church.

C.S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves, says, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one… It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision – it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.”

  • > We fellowship with others by being vulnerable to communicate our struggles and sins.
  • > We fellowship with others by presence more than proficiency. Quiet sitting or an awkward phone call express care more than trite advice or withdrawn inadequacy. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just say, “I’m sorry this happened and I care for you.”

Paul expresses this friendship and fellowship of suffering to another church saying, “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you had become so very dear to us” (1 Thess 1:8). And to another church, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort… Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort… [All this happened] to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead… You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor 1:6-11).

  • > We fellowship with others by praying for the problems and troubles of others. As a church member, one of your greatest privileges and responsibilities to one another is to read the prayer list and pray for church family… which leads to a next principle:

The church needs friends who are steadfast prayer warriors.

Paul returns telling us about Epaphras (Col 4:12-13) as a servant of Christ Jesus and leader in the church. You might recall that Epaphras was converted to Christianity through Paul’s ministry, and then returned to his home city to share the gospel and start the Colossian church. Paul concludes this letter by affirming Epaphras’ leadership – “one of you, a servant of Christ” and amplifying his leadership with the ministry of prayer – “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers.” Epaphras is an example of Paul’s earlier exhortation to be steadfast in prayer (Col 4:2).

  • One of my greatest joys each month is gathering with the Deacons to pray for church members.

The wording of struggling in prayer communicates agonizing and wrestling prayer, similar to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Paul’s earlier usage of the word describing his gospel laboring (Col 1:29). The purpose of his prayers is insightful too: “that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

One of the great benefits, blessings, and responsibilities for believers is to pray for one another. We see it modeled by the Lord Jesus (Lk 6:12; 22:32), in the early church (Acts 2:42, 20:6-8,  etc.), and through the NT letters. Prayer is not only our ministry to one another but God’s means for healing[5] (cf 1 Cor 12:9; James 5:13-18).

  • > Can your prayer life be described as agonizing for the right reasons, as opposed for its absence?

Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, says,
“the people who are not praying are straying.
   We have many organizers but few agonizers;
      many players and payers, few pray-ers;
      many singers, few clingers;
      lots of pastors, few wrestlers;
      many fears, few tears;
      much fashion, little passion;
      many interferers, few intercessors;
      many writers, but few fighters.
   Failing here, we fail everywhere.”

One of my ongoing convictions is that I have not been more effective at calling SPBC to corporate prayer.

  • > Emphasis of being in “family groups” for ministry of prayer for one another.
  • > Returning in Fall: Last Sunday First Priority

The church needs friends who are generous supporters.

Additional persons Paul lists:

  • Luke, the beloved physician. Luke had significant travel with Paul (Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–15; 21:1–18; 27:1–28:16). He was a loyal friend, likely until Paul’s martyrdom (cf. 2 Tim 4:11).
    — How great it is to have professionals in the marketplace as Christians who display their faith.
    • I heard someone reference their hair dresser pray with them.
    • Construction workers who not only build houses but homes for families.
    • Medical and first responders who care for body and soul.
  • How are you using your vocation for ministry? How does your Monday-Friday relate to Sunday?

  • The brothers [and sisters] at Laodicea. While we don’t know much about this church, we can make some inference. The Spirit inspired the apostle John in the book of Revelation to write to the Laodicean church that their works are not cold or hot but lukewarm (unuseful) and their prosperity had hindered their devotion to the Lord. So, based on Paul’s greetings in Colossians, the church started as generous supporters but eventually stopped.
    • The small and significant generosity of members is how we exist. We are grateful for your financial support and need your continued generosity, or our urgent work for the gospel and God’s kingdom will repeat cycles of plateau and decline rather than forward progression.
    • SPBC has helped churches in Nicaragua, JOR Baltimore, LCC Odenton, The Well, BOC… and while generosity to other churches is encouraged, let us not forget about home.
  • Nympha opened her home to a church in Laodicea. We don’t know much beyond what was said previously of the Laodiceans. The art and gift of hospitality are beautiful blessings for God’s church. We must be mindful our homes are equally sacred as a church building sanctuary.

The church needs friends who are enduring disciplemakers (Col 4:14-17).

This last group of individuals offer constructive insight.  

Demas – described as a fellow worker in Phm1:24; though it seems he later deserted Paul for love of this world (2Tim4:10).

If you have enjoyed much good from Christian friends and church family, it is also likely that you have experienced disappointment and perhaps even damage. This is the unfortunate reality of living in a fallen world. The redeemed community is not immune from the effects of sin and sinners. Yet, we can learn from Paul’s example to praise the positive and to learn from the negative experiences.

The redeemed community is not immune from the effects of sin and sinners. Yet, we can learn from Paul’s example to praise the positive and to learn from the negative experiences.

C.S. Lewis again in The Four Loves, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

We must not allow hurt to hinder us from love and legacy.

Archippus: Paul exhorts him to fulfill his ministry. We are not certain if this is meant as encouragement or admonishment. In Philemon, Paul addresses him as a fellow soldier (Phm 1:12) and his name means “first among horsemen.”[6] .

  • If Archippus was backslidden, then Paul is showing tender but tough love to challenge him to return the work and witness to the Lord’s call in his life. Note that Paul does not embarrass him if there is something negative in his spiritual life. Yet, Paul was not afraid to still single this man out for specific accountability and action.  
    • Whether you’re a parent or friend: shame is an easy attempt to motivate but its seldom effective long-term. It’s better to speak about the individual’s purpose and potential to motivate them to action.

Paul writes, at least a portion, of this letter with his own hands even though he is in chains (Col 4:18). Paul is not allowing his circumstances to distract or deter his purpose. He writes to continue his calling of declaring the gospel and developing disciples and leaders in God’s kingdom.

In fact, Paul’s listing of people is further evidence that Christianity is rooted in history. These were real people in real places with real contexts applying faith in the Lord Jesus.

  • The application for us is undoubtedly to make disciples. Yet, in specific context of your life, that likely involves navigating some hard conversations and possibly some hurt. The best practical advice comes from the text of Paul – “fulfill your ministry,” or in other words, “get to it!” Regardless of all that may be wrong or subnormal or unsatisfactory, what is the next right step God desires for you?

APPLY/THINK

Grace be with you… /            Jesus friend of sinners


[1] Illustration idea from Leonard Sweet, “11 Indispensable Relationships You Can’t Be Without”. p.15.

[2] https://www.christianbook.com/ten-who-changed-the-world/daniel-akin/9781433673078/pd/673078

[3] https://www.ywampublishing.com/p-941-chronological-order-christian-heroes-then-now.aspx

[4] https://www.desiringgod.org/series/the-swans-are-not-silent

[5] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/we-should-pray-for-healing

[6] Brand, C., Draper, C., England, A., Bond, S., Clendenen, E. R., & Butler, T. C. (Eds.). (2003). Archippus. In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 107). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

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